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Artificial nations? The Sykes-Picot and the Islamic State’s narratives in a historical perspective


In the last few years a growing number of academic works have analyzed the past and the present of the Eastern Mediterranean region arguing that Western powers «created artificial nations» and that most of the modern states in the area are deprived of peculiar historical legacies. The narrative of the Islamic State (IS) that is now trying to erase the «Sykes-Picot order» – reproduced in Western media and discourse – is largely based on similar assumptions. This article challenges these arguments and contends that, if not considered in a critical way, the ‘process of simplification’ experienced by the region between the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth centuries can itself trigger simplificative assumptions. The cultural and political evolution of many of the countries in the region shows a much more complex historical development than what the Sykes-Picot (and the related IS) narrative would suggest: most of the states in the region are not simply «artificial creations» and old maps should not be used, once again, to cover a complex local reality.